Koh Samui, Thailand

We travelled from Kanchanaburi to the island of Koh Samui (via car and plane) where we planned to spend the remaining half of our trip in Thailand doing nothing more than moving from our bed to a poolside or a beachside lounger.

There are a mind-boggling number of beach destinations in Thailand to choose from. After reading many reviews we decided on Koh Samui as it reportedly had nice beaches, not as busy as Phuket (the ‘h’ is silent) and it was easy to get to.

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There are many areas on the island to choose from as your base. We ended up at Fisherman’s Village at Bophut Beach. It was a lovely area full of shops and restaurants; although the majority of them were clearly skinning the tourists with their outrageous prices. There is also a fantastic street market that happens every Friday night full of food stalls, drink stands, clothes and trinkets. If you are after a more local flavour though check out the temple fair if there happens to be one on when you’re there.

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Bophut Beach

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Entrance to Fisherman’s Village

 

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Main road through Fisherman’s Village

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An unusual artwalk of elephants as superheroes and other characters. This one is an elephant wolverine of course.

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Friday street market full of souvenirs and trinkets

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One of the many drink stands complete with music pumping. In case you’re interested 60 baht is $2.25 CAD/$1.70 USD. 

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By comparison, the temple fair (which is mostly geared towards locals) is full of clothes and shoes

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The food at the temple fair is more suited to the taste of the locals as well. If you can’t tell those are large cockroaches on the left and grasshoppers or crickets on the right.

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Bophut Beach at night. Those two dots in the sky are floating lanterns. A regular sight in the skies.

 

As far as Bophut Beach goes, it was acceptable but we found Choeng Mon Beach a lovelier beach with powdery sand and clear shallow water perfect for the kids. It definitely had a more laid back vibe too. If your goal is to do nothing other than lay on the beach with the occasional dip in the water and a massage after to ease those sore muscles, I would highly recommend staying at one of the hotels on Choeng Mon. It’s easy enough to get around the island by grabbing a ride on a songthaew (a shared taxi where seats are on benches in the bed of a pickup truck) or hiring a taxi.

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Lovely Choeng Mon Beach

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The water was shallow enough to cross to a smaller island

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The kids were occupied for quite some time filling a pool with tiny hermit crabs and watching them interact. There must have been at least 50 in this pool.

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Caught a bigger crab that wasn’t too happy to be caught

It’s impossible to lie around and do nothing when you’re travelling with my dear husband so we did sign on for a day trip to Angthong Marine Park in between days of lazing around.

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Sailing in Thailand

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View from the boat

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The itinerary included some kayaking. They had a kayak big enough for the whole family. Saved me from having to paddle:)

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View from the kayak

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Spent the afternoon on Ko Wua Talap where the Angthong Marine Park headquarters is based. You can overnight here in a bungalow or a tent but there is no hot water (who needs it with the bath water temperature of the ocean) or electricity after 11pm.

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Beautiful beach at Ko Wua Talap

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Not a bad place to spend an afternoon

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First time snorkelling and loved it!

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View of Angthong Marine Park

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Short 10 minute hike to see the beautiful Emerald Lagoon

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Finished off the day with a jump off the top deck of the boat

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Not to be outdone by the old man

 

Looking back I think Koh Samui was a fine choice for our first trip to Thailand but now that we know what to expect and what appeals to us, we would choose one of the smaller islands further out. But then again, given the fact that travelling in Thailand is more expensive than Vietnam or Cambodia I think we would explore the quieter beaches of Vietnam and Cambodia before we would return to Thailand.

 

 

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Erawan National Park Kanchanaburi, Thailand

Other than happy elephants, the other reason to visit Kanchanaburi is the natural beauty in the area. There are several national parks within an easy bus ride or drive from the town. We decided on a day trip to Erawan National Park, famous for its 7-tier waterfall. It is also possible to overnight in the park by renting one of the campsites or bungalows. Along with the waterfall, there are several natural trails and caves to be explored. The park is also home to a multitude of birds and animals such as wild elephants, lar gibbon, wild boar and deer. Regrettably our visit was during the hot dry season and between the heat and the whiny boy we did not explore beyond the waterfall and even that we only managed to walk up to the fourth tier. Also, the falls were not as spectacular as I’m sure they would be during the wet season. We did manage to swim in three of the waterfall’s pools and some of us with hairier toes received a free pedicure from the fish that live in the pools.

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Proof we were at the park

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Pool at tier 1

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Pool at tier 2

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Tier 3 – the prettiest of the tiers we saw

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Pool at tier 3

 

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Looking out for the fish that are fans of his hairy toes

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Made it past the fish to the jumping rock

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Us of course

 

 

Elephant’s World Kanchanaburi, Thailand

There are many ways people can interact with elephants in Thailand. For tourists, it often means an elephant ride at a tourist spot or participation in one of the many elephant trekking camps. Riding an elephant is probably the most popular activity when visiting Thailand. Who wouldn’t want to ride an elephant? I sure did! That is, until I started reading about how an elephant’s back is the weakest part of its body and how its spine is not designed to support the weight of a human, much less a metal basket and a family of humans. After explaining this to the children, we all agreed that riding an elephant would not be part of our plans. Instead we felt that our time and our money was much better spent at an elephant sanctuary where elephants were free to just be elephants. No rides. No circus tricks. After some research and some consideration between an organization in Chiang Mai (Elephant Nature Park ), we decided on Elephant’s World in Kanchanaburi as it was easily reached from Bangkok and this time of year was not a good time to travel to Chiang Mai due to the poor air quality.

Elephant’s World is a non-profit organization established in 2008 for injured and old elephants. Many of these elephants come from the now defunct logging industry and the tourism industry (circuses, street begging and trekking camps). The majority of them have some sort of injury from their past work. Loss of eyesight and torn ears from logging work. Permanent spine/back damage from trekking camps. Leg injuries from begging in city streets.  Malnourishment from inadequate or poor quality food. At Elephant’s World, all their needs are taken care of and they are able to rest and live in peaceful natural surroundings.

Spending the day in the presence of elephants was the perfect way to celebrate our girl’s milestone birthday. To our pleasant surprise, it was also National Elephant Day so we had an extra special day with the elephants due to the festive celebrations in their honour. Party for both girl and elephant. Perfect.

Ready to see photos from our day? There can never be too many photos of elephants right?:)

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All dressed up for National Elephant Day

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Looking for those bananas we brought

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Along with the bananas we brought, we were given a huge basket of fruit to offer to our assigned elephant, 66 year old Touk-Ka-Ta

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Walking off their breakfast

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When one meal is finished, it’s time to start preparing the next one. Chopping pumpkin with a cleaver. An elephant eats 200 kg of food per day. 

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Cooking up pumpkin sticky rice

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Unsure if this was a rest position or a butt scratch position

 

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Time for a drink at the river. Elephants drink 100-200 litres of water per day.

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I see you

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Time to cool down with a nice mud bath

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Things get rowdy when the youngins’ are let loose

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Pure joy

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The herd waiting for the feast

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These two are Elephants World’s youngest residents, Spy and Hong Tong. Just babies. You’ll notice they are wearing chains. Only these two and a young bull wear them as they can get a bit too playful. 

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Feasting in celebration of National Elephants Day

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Tucking into a nice ripe papaya

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Can you feel the love?

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Unlikely to forget this day

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A hard life lived

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Time to scrub clean at the end of the day. You’ll notice the mahout (an elephant’s companion) sitting on the elephant. This does not hurt the elephant as they sit on the neck which is much stronger than the back.

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Lucky birthday girl

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It’s an elephant’s world:)

 

Bangkok to Kanchanaburi

From Bangkok, we headed to the town of Kanchanaburi, most visited for its World War II history, specifically the famous Bridge over the River Kwai, part of the Death Railway constructed by the Japanese during WWII. It’s estimated that over 100, 000 people died in the construction of this railway (90% were forced civilian labourers with the other 10% consisting of Allied POW’s).

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Bridge over the River Kwai. Hard to imagine the blood and sweat that it took to build this.

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Walking on the bridge. Trains still cross this bridge twice a day. 

There are several ways to reach Kanchanaburi from Bangkok. The most expensive and fastest is by taxi (cost=2000 baht). The second is by bus (cost ranges= 100-150 baht per person). The third is by train (cost=100 baht per person). As we love train travel, we opted for this truly authentic Thai experience. It didn’t hurt that tickets for our whole family cost $11 CAD/$8.60 USD. The train departs not from Bangkok’s main train station but from its tiny Thonburi Station. And from there it flies along the tracks, windows down, doors wide open, making many stops at quaint stations along the way during the 2. 5 hour journey to Kanchanaburi.

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Not much to Thonburi Station. Easy enough to show up at the station and buy your tickets just before departure. We arrived an hour prior to buy tickets and grab a quick lunch.

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Delicious and cheap chicken and pork rice can be found at this place directly across from the station. Run by the loveliest family we met in Thailand. 140 baht ($5 CAD or $4 USD) got us 4 plates of chicken rice served with bowls of soup. 

 

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Not the most comfortable seats but at least they were not hard benches and there were plenty of empty seats to spread ourselves out on. And no A/C but who needs that with the windows down and fans blowing from the ceiling (FYI – there’s a switch by the seats to turn these on which we didn’t figure out until the journey was almost at an end).

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Sticking heads out the window as the train speeds along the tracks made for great entertainment (just make sure you have quick reflexes).

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One of the many quaint stations we passed, complete with a portrait of the King and Queen and a man with a green and red flag for signalling the train.

If war history makes your eyes glaze over like mine, there are plenty of other reasons to visit Kanchanaburi. Our main reason for making the trip was to celebrate our girl’s milestone 10th birthday by hanging out with the elephant’s at Elephant’s World, a sanctuary for old, sick, disabled and abused elephants. Check it out in my next post.

Bangkok, Thailand

We made a decision to focus our visit to Thailand on the smaller town of Kanchanaburi and the island of Koh Samui which meant our time in Bangkok was limited. With only one day to visit the city’s sights, we once again hired a private tour guide. Our guide Pat from Tour with Tong met us at our hotel Eastin Grand Hotel Sathorn which was conveniently located next to the Surasak BTS Skytrain Station (Bangkok has both a skytrain and a subway system). We would recommend both our guide and our hotel.

We particularly enjoyed the hotel’s pool…

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I think you’ll agree this is a pretty swanky pool

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Enjoying the sunset in the cool of the pool

To get around the city, we used the skytrain, the subway, the ferry and taxis. We definitely recommend this over hiring a car as the traffic in Bangkok is notoriously terrible.

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Priority seating on the subway. I think four of the five are easily recognizable around the world. The fifth is unique to Thailand I think. So when in Thailand remember to get up and offer your seat to an orange robed monk.

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Turns out tuk tuks cost twice as much as taxis. Reason? They are used by tourists. We opted for the cheaper and air conditioned taxis.

 

 

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Also if you ever find yourself in Bangkok, don’t take the ferry with the blue flag as that is the tourist ferry and costs several times more than the orange flag ferry that is used by Thais.

Our guide recommended that we skip the overcrowded Grand Palace in lieu of seeing the real Bangkok through its markets, mix in a visit to a temple or two and a boat tour of the city’s river and canals for a full day. Take a look at Bangkok as we experienced it…

BANGKOK MARKETS

First stop, the wet market…

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Making thin bread similar to roti

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Clueless chickens

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Delicious roasted bananas, eggs, corn and sticky rice. We tried the banana leaf wrapped sweet sticky rice. 

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Bought too much? Hire one of these guys to wheel it for you.

Second stop, the wholesale market where people from the villages and small towns come and buy goods to sell back home…

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Racks and racks of cheap costume jewelry

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Just as many hairpieces to go with all that jewelry

Third stop, the flower market…

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Temple offerings

 

 

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More temple offerings

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Flower garlands for all occasions – temple offerings, weddings, protection, etc

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Sleeping on the job at the flower market

We went from markets to temples…

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Wat Traimit (temple of the gold buddha)

 

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Ringing the bells to be heard. Maybe I should get me some of those bells.

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The gold buddha, estimated to be around $250 million USD in gold. Amazing there wasn’t high security.

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I forgot the name of this temple. Our guide brought us here as it’s one of the most beautiful but seldom visited by tourists.

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Not gold buddhas

And the highlight of our day, the boat tour…

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For 1000 baht ($37 CDN/28 USD), we hired a long tail boat like these

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Many people still live and have shops along the canals and river. Some of the homes were in questionable condition though.

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Thai flags and hats were deemed the items that tourists might want to buy while they are touring the canals and river

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A monitor lizard. One of many of such inhabitants in the canals and rivers.

Even though we skipped the Grand Palace we did manage to see it from afar:)

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The spires of the Grand Palace and the Temple of the Emerald Buddha

Overall impression of Bangkok? It’s a city similar to many North American cities where large Starbucks and McDonald’s billboards can be found as you drive along the highways and pick up trucks and SUVs compete for space on the busy roads. And yet, it’s distinctly Thai where priority seating is given to monks, whole flower markets are dedicated to providing flowers for temple offerings, and there’s a spired wat around every corner.

 

Travel Day – Thailand

And we’re off again! On the agenda – celebrating a milestone birthday by hanging with elephants in Kanchanaburi and slowing down with some time on the beaches of Koh Samui.

THAILAND

Photo credit: http://pattaya2013.blogspot.sg/2012/05/pattaya-beach.html